Abby Dodge never ceases to inspire when it comes to baking, and this month’s luscious Vanilla Pots de Crème for the #BakeTogether challenge do not disappoint. She shares her recipe and invites us to create our own version. Happy to do so!
Vanilla stars in these little custards. I’ve sung vanilla’s praises many times, and am always delighted to let it shine (and may even take Abby’s suggestion to dab a little behind my ears before a night out).
I began to think about other flavors to complement and enhance the warm, enticing vanilla essence. The jar of bay leaves on my spice shelves has been staring at me lately, asking me how else I can use them other than dropping an occasional leaf into a bubbling pot of tomato sauce. Bay leaves are aromatic and lend herbal notes to a dish. I wondered what a few floral leaves might add to a sweet vanilla custard...
Sweetening these little pots with maple syrup was my next choice, and I poured a little extra in the bottom of each jar as a sweet surprise. I also toasted some walnuts with maple syrup and flaky sea salt to sprinkle on top of the custards.
After steeping vanilla beans and bay leaves in some half and half for two hours, the custard is lightly cooked on the stove top with egg yolks and maple syrup and then baked in the oven in a water bath. As always, Abby provides detailed instructions and wisdom with her recipe.
Delicate and silky, with flecks of vanilla bean, this seductive dessert is sublime. The bay leaves don’t impart a particularly distinct flavor, but rather round out the vanilla and add a savory backdrop. A subtle sweetness comes from maple syrup and the walnuts add a nice bit of salty crunch. The baked custards need to chill for at least four hours, so they are marvelous to prepare a day ahead, making dessert easy to pull out of the fridge and serve.
Bay Leaf-Vanilla Pots de Crème
Adapted from Abby Dodge’s Very Vanilla Pots de Crème
1 3/4 cups organic half and half
1 vanilla bean
4 dried bay leaves
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup maple syrup + 4 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup raw walnuts, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
Pour the half and half into a medium sized sauce pan. With a sharp knife, split the vanilla bean open lengthwise. Using the tip of the knife, gently scrape the beans from inside and add them and the vanilla pod to the half and half. Drop the bay leaves in and bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat. Don’t let it boil, heat until it is hot and beginning to steam. Remove from the heat and cover. Let the mixture steep for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours (I steeped for 2 hours for maximum flavor).
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Arrange four 6-ounce ramekins or jars in a baking pan with 2-inch high sides. I used an 8-inch square baking pan. Pour 1 tablespoon of maple syrup into the bottom of each ramekin.
On a small baking pan, toss the walnuts with the remaining 1 teaspoon of maple syrup and flaky sea salt. Pop in the oven to toast until golden, about 6-7 minutes, stirring once. Remove and set aside to cool.
In a glass 2-cup measuring cup, whisk the yolks, 1/4 cup maple syrup and kosher salt until well blended. (Don’t let them sit or the eggs will begin to break down.) Uncover the half and half and, while whisking, slowly pour the egg mixture in (with the vanilla bean and bay leaves). Whisk until well blended. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a spoon or heat-proof spatula, until the custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon (170-172°F on an instant read or candy thermometer), about 4 to 5 minutes.
Slide the pan from the heat and remove the vanilla bean and bay leaves. Scrape any custard from the pod and leaves back into the custard. Pour the custard into the ramekins on top of the maple syrup (it’s easiest to pour the custard back into the 2-cup measure and then pour it from there into the ramekins). Carefully fill the baking pan with hot tap water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins and cover the pan loosely with foil.
Bake until the pots de crème wiggle like jello when nudged, 35 to 45 minutes depending on thickness of the ramekin walls. Transfer the baking pan to a rack let cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 2 days before serving.
When ready to serve, top each pot de crème with a few toasted walnuts.